Alberta Government Rubbing Salt in the Wound

By: Paige MacPherson
Published: Business in Calgary - September Issue

          The Alberta government does not control the price of oil. If it's been said once, it's been said a million times. It's the main line of defense from the government when facing its fiscal critics.

The Alberta government does not control the price of oil, however, the Alberta government does control its policy reaction to the price of oil; and right now, that reaction is to grab a handful of salt and rub it right where it hurts.

For the first time since Statistics Canada began collecting data in the 1970s, Alberta's unemployment rate has surpassed that of Nova Scotia. For decades, Nova Scotians have migrated to Alberta in droves to find work. East Coasters are a dime a dozen in Edmonton and beyond, but now, alongside other Albertans, many find themselves struggling with the same lack of jobs they faced back east.

Alberta's unemployment rate was spiked recently by a large number of new people entering the province's labour force, without the availability of jobs with which to match them. Those hardest hit are aged 15-18. These workers are mostly seeking low-skilled, part-time work - jobs generally created by Alberta's retail stores and restaurants. Unfortunately, these businesses have small margins and are the ones hit fastest by tax and wake hikes.

With the provincial recession, Albertans are already consuming less. This reality should have signalled that businesses need support in the form of lower taxes and lessened regulation.

The Alberta government didn't drop the price of oil. The government didn't spark the recession. But they are certainly fanning the flames.

Almost immediately, Alberta's NDP government hiked business taxes, personal income taxes, alcohol and tobacco taxes, train fuel taxes, education property taxes, doubled the existing "big emitter" carbon levy and introduced a whopper of a carbon tax and substantial minimum wage hikes.

These policy choices (yes, the government had a choice) were all made at the same time the federal government hiked taxes and Canada Pension Plan premiums, and municipal governments in Calgary and Edmonton hiked property taxes for the umpteenth time.

Protests at the legislature have been frequent. Business groups have begged the government to please take a step back and put their steamrolling tax hikes on hold. Calgary's small businesses are dropping like flies. None of it seems to matter to the government.

Recently, a Lethbridge restaurant owner explained to Global News that a minimum wage  hike would force him to cut staff by 50 per cent. (It should be self-evident that a business must turn a profit in order to create jobs.) He wrote to Lethbridge East MLA Maria Fitzpatrick. Her response? Fitzpatrick called him selfish. Publicly.

Why isn't the government receptive in the least to the plain-faced struggles of those who are paying our MLA's tabs?

Perhaps we should start phrasing it in a way they'll actually respond to: if you want healthy tax revenue, you need a healthy business climate that respects job creators. Just ask the Nova Scotians-turned-Albertans who call this once-prospering province home.

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